Economic Outlook: A look at the workforce

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International  |  Jan. 25, 2013 at 9:58 AM
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Are Walmart greeters role models?

In perfunctory fashion -- as it should be -- the U.S. Census Bureau said Thursday the fastest growing segment of the workforce is -- wait for it -- women 65 years of age or older.

Does this make sense? What prompted a rush back to the working world, an eddy one would think -- that part of the stream in which the current goes backward?

Yes, the Census Bureau used extremely broad strokes to arrive at their conclusion, but the fact remains that from 1990 to 2010, women 65 and older experienced a 4.1 percentage point increase in labor force participation while women 16 to 64 experienced a 1.9 percentage point increase. This compares with a 3.2 percentage point increase in the labor force participation rate for men 65 and older and a 5.2 percentage point decline in the participation rate for men 16 to 64.

Not only are the demographic definitions here broad, but the time-line is also fairly large. The discussion here starts in the 1960s when women began to march en masse into the workforce following a post-World War II hiatus.

Oddly, two equally offsetting versions of opportunism emerged from this change. The first is the opportunity for women to change their destiny. As flawed as it might have been and might still be, women's lives and family incomes changed dramatically.

The other opportunity is economic and with that new standards arose. That promise of a car in every garage and a chicken in every pot became the promise of two cars in the driveway and an enormous increase in dollars spent eating out and, consequently, a veritable plague of obesity.

The new workforce is not in hiding. Elderly women are behind cash registers, sitting at the receptionists desk, working at tax return businesses, writing columns for newspapers.

You can't measure standards of living without taking a look at life expectancy; the standard of living doesn't get any more basic than that. In data up to date in 2003, the average life expectancy in the United States reached an all time high of 77.5 years, up from a primitive 49.2 years in 1900. For white females, life expectancy reached 80.5 years, and for white males it had reached 75.3 years, a Congressional report concluded.

For blacks, the average life expectancy had reached 76.1 years for females and 69 years for males.

At the same time, the report said, fertility rates were decreasing, which meant an extended life expectancy was not just a personal benefit, but a societal responsibility, as well. In so many words, the average number of candles on birthday cakes was increasing rapidly.

Toss in the Great Recession, the ensuing deterioration of life savings and the frightening number of people fearful they cannot afford retirement and this is precisely why in the last taxicab I was in the driver talked about her great grandchildren.

In international markets the Nikkei 225 index in Japan gained 2.88 percent while the Shanghai composite index in China slipped 0.49 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong shed 0.08 percent while the Sensex in India rose 0.9 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia added 0.52 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain climbed 0.19 percent while the DAX 30 in Germany advanced 1.22 percent. The CAC 40 in France gained 0.56 percent while the Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.17 percent.

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